This scene kicks off the first collaborative storytelling effort with my favorite writing partner, Jeff Stanford, since…sometime in the late 20th Century. We’ve both been swamped with jobs and family life. Now we’re doing what we can to cater to our creative tendencies while still balancing those other important obligations. With this project, we’re leaping into the OtherSpace universe and sharing a story that’s predominantly about two key characters – a self-centered hacker named Simple Britain (my creation) and a female bounty hunter named Sam Diego (his creation). We’ll take turns pushing the story forward and, no doubt, try to mess with each other as we go.
Thanks for reading!
NELSESUIN, NALHOM (Capital of the Parallax)
The ruler of the Parallax, a reptiloid not much more than a meter tall, pressed the talons of her left foot against the pudgy human’s throat as he sprawled on the stone dais of her throne.
He squirmed. He winced. He wet himself.
Pungent. Her forked tongue twitched in distaste at the scent. The stain spread around the crotch of his pale gray jumpsuit until the fabric was saturated, and then came the small puddle. And the tears. The sobs. His hands rose shakily, plaintive. He shouted something desperate and whiny, clenching his eyes shut.
She would gut him if he stained the hem of her ceremonial robes.
Gris of Hatch Vril, Vox of the Parallax and the living vessel of the sun goddess Nalia, opened her fanged snout in unmasked amusement at the human. She didn’t understand his words. The gestures, though, she could not mistake. Weak creature. More pathetic than most of the humans she’d met. Certainly nothing like the warriors who had challenged the glorious Children of Nalia at the Line of Pain just a decade ago and fought the superior forces to a draw.
“He begs for his life,” said High Priestess Kithra of Hatch Kavir. The cleric had spent several years among the humans of the Stellar Consortium as an ambassador. During that time, she had become fluent in their Terran Standard language. The Vox had recalled all Nall diplomats from Consortium worlds and expelled humans from Nalhom and Lebal a few years ago – a move that had done much to increase tensions between the interstellar governments. Humans and the Nall never got along well after first contact and, of course, there’d been the war. But the presence of Parallax emissaries on Earth and human representatives on Nalhom at least gave the illusion of peace. Now nervous silence and uncertainty prevailed.
Kithrakavir stood to Grisvril’s left on the dais, clawed fingers laced together. She peered at the human through beady black eyes that glinted within the shadows of her dark-hooded vestments.
Two black-armored reptiloid warriors flanked the dais, unblinking as they observed the exchange, hands resting on the hilts of their thirsting blades. The males would not act against the prisoner unless the females demanded aid.
The Vox kept her foot on the man’s throat. No sense giving him a false sense of hope. She didn’t kill him just yet, though. He wanted to live – soaked, stinking of ammonia, imprisoned by the foes of his homeworld. It made no sense. Any self-respecting Nall caught in similar circumstances would take her own life or demand execution. Proof once more, it seemed, that humans were lesser creatures of dubious honor. She peered down her blunt snout, tilted her head, and asked: “Why?”
The fat man shook his head. More panicked gibbering. Grisvril turned to regard the priestess.
“If I may?” Kithrakavir said, waving the three digits of her green-fleshed hand at the weeping fat man on the floor. The Vox bobbed assent, but her razor-sharp talons kept a menacing vigil – the central claw bounced a little on his Adam’s apple as he gulped.
The priestess knelt beside the human. In his tongue, she said: “The Vox wants to know why she should not free you from the horrors of this life.”
The man’s eyes bulged. His mouth gaped. He shook his head, hands waving as he muttered something emphatic at Kithrakavir. She tilted her head up toward the waiting Vox. In Naliese, she said: “He seems not to welcome Nalia’s mercy at this time.”
He asked something else, voice trembling. The priestess snapped her fangs at him and raised a clawed finger to her snout, signaling silence.
Grisvril huffed through her nostrils. “Learn what you can, priestess,” the Vox commanded. She gave a cold stare to the trembling human beneath her foot. “If he disappoints, I will end it quickly.”
The cleric bobbed her snout in deference, then returned her attention to the prisoner. “Answer my questions without hesitation and without dissembling or you will die. Is this understood?”
He gave a frantic nod.
“What is your name?”
This much, the Vox could make out. Two words, mostly meaningless: “Simple Britain.”
“Our fleet found you on the wrong side of the Line of Pain aboard a hostile vessel,” the priestess continued. “Why?”
The man who called himself Simple Britain turned somber, his jaw set as he spoke.
Eye membranes flicked across the dark orbs recessed in Kithrakavir’s face as she considered the answer. She hissed another question in the alien tongue.
The human jabbered, looking from the priestess to Grisvril. He gave an urgent series of statements. Finally, he pointed at the Vox, eyes wide.
Another query from Kithrakavir, almost a whisper.
He gave an insistent reply. Not weeping anymore. Almost defiant.
The Nall cleric raised a hand, splaying her three fingers before turning her snout toward the Vox.
“What did he say?” Grisvril asked.
“The human was quite forthcoming,” Kithrakavir told the ruler in Naliese. “He came here to kill you.”